A Foodie Adventure in Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore Castle Asheville, NC

The Biltmore Castle
Asheville, NC

There are so many exciting places to visit in the United States. For us having the focus of doing a culinary adventure sounded very appealing. My husband had heard of Asheville, NC as being a big foodie community. Asheville is also home to the Biltmore Estate a gorgeous castle built by George Vanderbilt III, fashioned after some of the French Loire Valley castles. Asheville is located in the western part of North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains. We decided to drive to Asheville, NC from our home in West Chester, PA. The drive was approximately 9 ½ hours long and we split it into 2 days. The drive took us from Pennsylvania through some very scenic areas of the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. We had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Southern hospitality.

Southern Food at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA

Enjoying Southern food at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA

Our first stop included stopping for dinner in New Market, VA in a 57-year old restaurant called Southern Kitchen. We thoroughly enjoyed a dinner of peanut soup, southern fried chicken, and not-to-be missed peanut butter cream pie.  After enjoying a wonderful dinner we continued on to Christianburg, VA to spend the night. The next morning we were only 3 ½ hours away from Asheville. Asheville, NC has a regional airport and can also be reached by airplane. Asheville is approximately a 4-hour drive from Raleigh, the capital of NC located closer to the center of the state. North Carolina also boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. With so much to do and see, the state of North Carolina can be a wonderful destination visit. Keep in mind that North Carolina is home to some excellent universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, Wake Forest University, and Elon University. So if college visits bring you here, make sure to extend your visit and see more of the state.

Inn on Biltmore Estate

Inn on Biltmore Estate

We arrived in Asheville on a Monday and went straight to our hotel to check-in at The Inn on Biltmore Estate located on the grounds of the Biltmore Castle. We knew our hotel room would not be ready until later so we dropped off our bags and drove into the town of Asheville.

Asheville has become a mecca for foodies, where restaurant chefs have the focus of farm to table. The other great attribute of this city is that it offers a very international selection of cuisine. The city has also become an artist community boasting many galleries and exhibits. We enjoyed our first meal in Asheville at a Latin American restaurant called Chorizo, where we savored a mouth-watering arepa stuffed with shredded pork. We then met up with our foodie walking tour, Eating Asheville. Our wonderful tour guide, Cecily, took us to 6 different venues while also sharing with us some of the city history. Our stops included: The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Chai Pani (Indian street food), Zambras (tapas with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern twist), Table (farm-to-table seasonal), The Gourmet Chip Company (gourmet potato chips), and The French Broad Chocolate Lounge (a to die for chocolatier). At every stop we enjoyed delectable samplings of the food and drink. What a wonderful way to get introduced to the local food scene. I highly recommend that you sign up for foodie tours in the various cities you visit. It’s great entertainment. Cecily also recommended that instead of having a meal at just one restaurant, to try restaurant hopping while sampling their appetizers and drinks. We tried this strategy very successfully on one of our nights in Asheville. This allowed us to sample a variety of restaurants in a short time frame.

Eating Asheville Food Tour with Cecily giving us information about the tour.

Eating Asheville Food Tour with Cecily giving us information about the tour.
At The Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar

Our stay at the Biltmore Inn was wonderful. The hotel sits on top of a hill with beautiful sweeping views of the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore Castle & Estate was built by George Vanderbilt III. It was Vanderbilt’s dream to make the estate self-sustaining. When it was first built in 1895 the estate operated a diary farm. Today, the estate operates a very successful winery. Although, some of the grapes are grown on the property, many are purchased from other regions of the United States. The Winery is one of the most visited wineries in the country.  The Biltmore Inn offers various wonderful choices for dining and serves a lovely Afternoon Tea. Dare I say, that the afternoon tea rivaled some of the best London high tea experiences.

Afternoon Tea at the Biltmore

Afternoon Tea at the Biltmore

During our stay at the Biltmore Inn we took advantage of some of the many activities they offer. We enjoyed a session of Sporting Clays. In the picture I am shooting a 20 gauge double barrel shot gun.  At first I was a little intimidated seeing the shotgun. With the coach’s guidance I found myself holding and shooting the shotgun. The instructor uses a computerized system to propel 6-inch clay discs from different locations into the air that you then attempt to hit. And to my greatest surprise I actually hit the clays. Even my husband was shocked. Annie Oakley, move over!!! Another fun activity is the Land Rover driving school where you get instruction on off-road driving. Other activities include: fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, river trips, Segway tours, biking, and carriage rides. There is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.

Annie Oakley Move Over!

Annie Oakley Move Over!

One very special activity that we did was a Private Food Demonstration that I arranged through the Biltmore Catering Department. A wonderful menu was especially prepared for us and demonstrated by Chef Kirk together with his sous chef and pastry chef. In addition, we had the wonderful service of two waitresses that made sure the champagne and wines were appropriately matched. All of this took place in one of their catering kitchens. The session was an amazing display of cuisine by a professional and friendly crew offering us an experience and lunch to remember.

Our Private Food Demonstration

Our Private Food Demonstration

The Biltmore Estate is still privately owned by the Vanderbilt Family and employs 1700 people and is visited by more than one million guests a year. We enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Biltmore Castle and its extensive gardens. The audio tour guide provided with the admission ticket is a great way to enjoy the property and learn its history. We really enjoyed the Biltmore Estate and hope to return again someday.

Our Delicious Private Food Demonstration Menu

Our Delicious Private Food Demonstration Menu

For more information on foodie tour in Asheville go to:  http://eatingasheville.com/

For more information on the Biltmore Estate go to: http://www.biltmore.com

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A Trip Down Memory Lane: Brussels and Bruges

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels May 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels
May 2013
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

As you may remember, our family lived in Brussels, Belgium for four years from 1997 until 2001. Both our children were born in Brussels. After we returned to the US, I had brought the children to visit Brussels in 2005 but we had not been back since then. We thought it very appropriate to visit Brussels on our last weekend getaway before moving back to the states.

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005
The Grand Place

Visiting Brussels 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Visiting Brussels May 2013
At the Grand Place
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Many friends here have asked me if a weekend is enough time to visit Brussels and my answer is always a resounding yes. Not only did we visit Brussels we took a day trip to beautiful Bruges. Belgium is a country about the size of the state of Maryland. It is located north of France and south of the Netherlands, with Germany and Luxembourg to its east. The country is culturally divided in two halves, the northern half that speaks Flemish (similar to Dutch) and the southern half that speaks French. The two groups do not really like each other and often times choose English as the language of choice to address each other in. Brussels is officially a bilingual city so its streets signs are always in both French and Flemish. Belgium is a country rich in history and with wonderful cuisine, not to mention about 400 varieties of beer, yummy waffles, and the best chocolate in the world.

Neuhaus Chocolates

Neuhaus Chocolates

Although Brussels is a small city it is a very important player in the global stage. Both the European Union and NATO are headquartered in Brussels.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We departed after school on a Friday afternoon on a 5:00 p.m. Eurostar train from St. Pancras International Station in London. The train arrived at Gare Midi in Brussels and from there we took a quick taxi ride to our hotel Le Meridién located across from Gare Central in the heart of the city.  We were checked into the hotel by 8:30 pm (the clock moves forward by 1 hour). We had made reservations for dinner at the Brasserie de la Roue D’Or located near the Grand Place. This classic Art Nouveau brasserie serves typical Belgian fare like waterzooi (chicken or fish soup), vol-au-vent (chicken in mushroom cream sauce served in pastry shells), moules (mussels), and frites (fries). The restaurant has murals that resemble the art of the famous Belgian surreal artist René Magritte. We enjoyed a delicious dinner.

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

The next morning we took a one-hour train ride from Brussels to the medieval city of Bruges. Bruges is located in the Flemish northern part of the country. It is a beautiful city that still preserves its medieval charm. The city has canals running through it and has been referred to as the “Venice of the North”.

The canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We meandered through the streets of Bruges and took one of the canal boat rides. The boat ride allows you to enjoy the canals and charming buildings along the way. We had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called Kok au Vin where delicious Belgian food was served. The main city square is called the Markt Square. There you will find the Belfry of Bruges the medieval bell tower that still functions today.

The charming medieval houses in Bruges

The charming medieval houses in Bruges
The Belfry Tower in the Back
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We returned to Brussels by late afternoon. We strolled over to the Grand Place. The Grand Place or Grote Markt is on the UNESCO list of heritage sites, and rightfully so because in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful city squares in Europe. The earliest mention of the Grand Place is 1174. It has always had seven streets feeding into it. Today it is a collection of private and public buildings, with the Hotel De Ville (City Hall) taking up most of its south side. Other buildings in the square include various guild houses, Cloth, Bread and Meat Halls. Many of the immediate streets off of the Grand Place are cobble-stoned. We decided to enjoy an afternoon snack at one of the cafes in the beautiful Galeries St. Hubert. One of my all time favorite snacks is Crepes Mikado, a crepe accompanied with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. My daughter enjoyed another family favorite, a Dame Blanche (White Lady), the French term for a Hot Fudge sundae.

Walking down Rue de Bouchers - Seafood Restaurant Row

Walking down Rue des Bouchers – Seafood Restaurant Row
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

From the Galeries St. Hubert we entered the section known as Ilot Sacré with its famous street called Rue des Bouchers. This street is full of seafood restaurants exhibiting their exotic seafood displays enticing customers to come in. Make sure you do your research before eating in one of these restaurants, since some of them are tourist traps. We had made reservations for dinner at an outstanding family run Italian restaurant Pasta Divina. The wife rolls out the pasta, the husband is the maître’d and the daughter is one of the waitresses. The pasta dishes were amazingly delicious.

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We spent our Sunday visiting more Brussels tourist attractions. One of the city’s famous landmarks is that of a small fountain statue of a little boy urinating, The Mannekin Pis. The statue dates back to 1619. There are several legends explaining the significance of the statue, one is the story of the little boy who tried to put out a fire in the city by urinating on it. The bottom line is that it is very endearing and Brussels is quite proud of it. The statue even gets dressed in various costumes depending on the occasion.

The Mannequin Pis 2005

The Mannequin Pis 2005

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

The  Jazz Marathon Festival was playing in the Grand Place during our visit.  The Grand Place was set up with dozens of tables and chairs and surrounded by food and drink stalls. On our second day we chose to have lunch at one of the square’s famous Belgian restaurants Restaurant ‘T Kelderke. We enjoyed more delicious Belgian food. We ate stoemp, a typical dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables, accompanied by various meat dishes. My husband and son had stoemp with sausages and I ate stoemp with Carbonnades Flammandes a delicious Flemish beer stew.

One of the Bruges local beer  - Bruges Zot

One of the Bruges local beer – Bruges Zot

We strolled through the Parc de Bruxellles and made our way to the Royal Palace. We visited, The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule dedicated to the male and female patron saints of Brussels. We then meandered to the Place du Grand Sablon another very quaint square filled with cafes, boutiques and restaurants. On of the ends of the Sablon is the gothic church of Notre Dame Du Sablon built in the early 15th century. Not far from the Place du Grand Sablon is Pierre Marcolini, one of Belgium’s world-renowned chocolatiers.

The spoiled life of a yellow life looking over the Bruges Canals

The spoiled life of a yellow labrador looking over the Bruges Canals
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Belgium is famous for its tapestries and lace making. I definitely recommend you buy some of these as souvenirs. One of my favorite shops is Goblins Art located off of the Grand ‘Place. On Sunday afternoon we enjoyed our last Belgian beer and snacks at the restaurant Le Roy off of the Grand Place before heading back to Gare Midi. We would once again bid the city we once called home, “au revoir and tot ziens”.

Butchery Classes

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I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would enjoy a butchery class so much. My parents gave my husband and I butchery classes for our Christmas gift. Last Friday night, we redeemed our gift and attended the Beef Butchery class at the Ginger Pig Butchery in Marylebone, London.

Ginger Pig's Meats Dry-Aging

Ginger Pig’s Meats Dry-Aging

The Ginger Pig, which began over 20 years ago now farms over 3,000 acres of farm and moorland, and supplies its five London butchery shops and several London restaurants with meat. All of their beef, pork and lamb come from free-ranging Longhorn and Galloway cattle, their Tamworth, Old Spot, Berkshire, and Middle White pigs, and Blackface, Swaledale and Dorsett sheep. They farm 300 acres of barley, oats, wheat and fodderbeat  (a crop in between sugar beet and mangold) to feed their animals. In summary, they raise happy animals and happy animals provide us with a more humane and delicious food source.

Learning the art of butchery from Borut

Learning the art of butchery from Borut

The class started promptly at 7:00 and lasted until 10:30 p.m. We were 15 students, 13 men and 2 women. Borut, our butchery teacher from Slovenia, was very engaging and personable. He began by giving us some information about dry-aged and wet-aged meat. During the first two weeks of aging, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscles making the meat tenderer. Beyond the 2-weeks, moisture evaporates from the muscle developing flavor and taste. He recommended a minimum of 30 days for dry aging but probably no more than 50 days. The reason he explained is the cost of longer aged meat becomes very high with very little incremental difference in taste. Wet aging is when meat is vacuum-sealed to retain its moisture. This achieves the tenderizing but does not impart the flavors of dry-aged beef. Most of the supermarket chains sell wet-aged beef. He taught us what to look for in meat and what questions to ask your neighborhood butcher. Soon after class begun, Borut’s assistant, Daniel from Romania, passed around dry-aged beef tenderloin that he had sumptuously prepared for us. It was beautifully cooked, using a piece of the animal fat to prepare the pan, the tenderloin was browned and finished off in the oven with just salt and pepper and served in all of its natural juices.

At first I thought I would be disgusted seeing a side of beef being carved. The truth is it gave me an appreciation for the animal, awareness of proper raising and handling techniques of the animals, and of the art of butchery. Borut taught us that if you ever see meat with spots on it, it means the animal was stressed when it went to the slaughterhouse. At that moment, the animal is releasing adrenaline, causing its blood vessels to constrict and that appears later as dark spots in the meat itself.

Starting to cut the Roast part of the animal.

Starting to cut the Roast part of the animal.

In our class we focused on the top part of the cow, what is called the roast. We worked with ½ of the roast lengthwise weighing approximately 40 kg or 88 lbs. If you look at the diagram in the picture below, we dealt with Section 6 – The Rump/Rump Cap, Section 7 – Wing Rib Section: Sirloin/T-bone/Fillet/Chateaubriand/Cote de Boeuf/Wing Rib, and Section 8 – Fore rib/Rib-eye steak.  Together with the teacher we carved the whole roast into the various sections and steaks.

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Some of the various cuts.

Some of the various cuts.

I volunteered to separate the T-bone steaks from the Wing Rib section. First I had to locate the pelvic bone within the Wing Rib section. Once you know where the pelvic bone is, you cut on the left hand side of the pelvic bone.  You use a knife for the meat part and then a saw to go through the chine (back bone). That exposes a whole block of what we know as T-bone steaks. The teacher then sliced one steak.

"Going to Town" with the saw. Notice how trusting Borut is and looks away to answer a question while I saw away.

“Going to Town” with the saw.
Notice how trusting Borut is and looks away to answer a question while I saw away.

Reassembling the side of beef and reviewing all of the sections.

Reassembling the side of beef and reviewing all of the sections.

After the group lesson, demonstration, and some hands-on, it was time for each student to prepare his/her own joint for roasting.

Learning how to prepare our joint.

Learning how to prepare our joint.

We each got a section of the Fore-rib (Section 8), two ribs with the steak weighing approximately 3 kg or 7 pounds. We had to trim the chine off (good for stock), then we had to remove the cap (layer of fat with some very tasty meat), French-cut the ribs*, reassemble, and tie the joint with butcher’s twine. And voila, we wrapped our roasts to bring home.

My husband's masterpiece

My husband’s masterpiece

By 9:30 in the evening, we were rewarded with delicious Côte du Rhône red wine and feasted on a large roasted fore-rib of beef accompanied by Dauphinois** potatoes, salad, and a delicious pudding (dessert).

The Feast

The Feast

The city of London is fortunate to have neighborhood butchers in many of its High Streets. If your neighborhood does not have its own high quality butcher then you can always go to one of the Ginger Pig’s five stores. If you don’t have access to a good old fashion butcher shop then look for local farmers at farmer’s markets or on the Internet.

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit!

I cannot deny I am a carnivore, and that I enjoy meat, but I do feel the humane treatment of our animals is so important. It gave me comfort last night to know where my meat had come from, how it had been raised and handled, and how it had been prepared. This is why it is so important to support your local farmers. We are already looking forward to returning to the Ginger Pig to take the butchery class for pork.

For Further Reading:

http://www.thegingerpig.co.uk/

*French Cut or to “French” a bone: A method of preparing a roast, where the meat between the ribs is trimmed down to the loin, exposing the bones, and then the bones are cleaned of all meat/fat/tissue. When roasted, the bones become white in color. This is done with lamb, beef, and pork and often the final roast is called a crown roast because it is shaped into a crown.

http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/ah/g/frenched.htm

http://yeschefnochef.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/frenching-rib-rack.html

**Dauphinois potatoes my Julia Child: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/POTATOES-DAUPHINOISE-50029695

Side Note: Temple Grandin

I take this opportunity to invite you to see a wonderful movie about a remarkable woman. Temple Grandin (2010) starring Claire Danes as Grandin is about the true story of a child born in 1947 who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. At the time she was treated as having brain damage. Her mother’s perseverance to find solutions to deal with her child’s autism paid off. Grandin, who was extremely bright, was able to graduate from high school, attend university and go on to get a doctorate degree. By the time she reached college she developed the “hug box”, a device that she would get into and that would help calm her anxieties. The “hug box” continues to be used today as a treatment for some autistic children.  Because of her own autism, she has a keen understanding of what it is to feel threatened by everything in her surroundings, this allowed her to apply her experiences to the humane handling processes of livestock. She has a doctorate of animal science and is professor at Colorado State University.  She is an advocate for autism and for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Her business website promotes improvements in standards of slaughter plants and livestock farms.

Temple Grandin’s Website: http://www.grandin.com/

About the movie Temple Grandin: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278469/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Borough Market

FOODIE OVERDOSE IN LONDON

Borough Market

One of the first things we did when we moved to London was going to the very famous food market, Borough Market. If you are a foodie, you will love to immerse yourself in this food mecca. The market is located at 8 Southwark Street in London SE1 1TL. The closest underground station is London Bridge. The market runs Thursday from 11 – 5 pm, Friday from 12 -6, and Saturdays from 8 – 5.

The market is very popular and can get very crowded. They recommend for you to visit either on the earlier or later side. My husband and I like to go early on Saturday mornings when we have the market almost to ourselves.

By noon you can barely walk through this area.

At this market you will find vendors selling baked goods and confectionery products. You will find stalls offering dairy, fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood, fish, beer, wine and international foods.

There are dozens of artisans selling their culinary creations. The market also offers a huge selection of cafés, bars, and restaurants. Once the market closes to the retail customers it turns into a traditional wholesale market for London’s restaurants and shops.

Although, I don’t have a picture of the spanish store, Brindisa, I am here to tell you that they sell the best Spanish chorizo I have ever had in my life. They also hand cut Iberian ham to order that will melt in your mouth. In addition, they have a separate tapas restaurant at the market. For more information go to:

http://www.brindisa.com/

Notice the Gigantic English Muffins on the Left

A decadent late morning breakfast for me is to buy the grilled cheese sandwich at Kappacassein. This most delicious toasted cheese sandwich is loaded with Montgomery Cheddar on onion, leek, & garlic bread. You will have gone to grilled cheese sandwich Nirvana and back by the time you finish this delicacy.

Grilled Cheese Nirvana at Kappacasein’s Stall

Another very popular place for a take away (take-out) lunch is the deli arm of the restaurant Roast. The lines to this place are huge. There you can order all sorts of beef, pork, and turkey sandwiches.

For Delicious Fish and Chips go to Fish!

Whether you live in London or you are just visiting, if you love food then a trip to Borough Market is a must.

For more information go to:

http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/borough-market

Borough Market

Il Viaggo a Venezia

The Trip to Venice

To say that our family loves Italy is an understatement. Perhaps because we carry the Petrucelli last name there is a special connection with the country. We were fortunate enough to spend our children’s October school break in Venice. I share with you the names of our hotel, restaurants, and activities. As always, a lot of research goes into our restaurant and gelateria choices, because for the Petrucelli Family it’s all about the food.

Benvenuti a Venezia

After arriving at San Marco Polo airport we took a “water taxi” to the center of Venice. We booked it right at the airport and had about a 20-minute wait. Alternatively, you can book online but there were so many companies and not enough reviews to know which company to pick from. The water taxi ride took about 20 minutes. I felt like in a Federico Fellini movie as I enjoyed the wind blowing through my hair.

Enjoying the ride.
“La Dolce Vita”

Suddenly mystical Venice appears before you transporting you back in time. There is an allure and magic to Venice that captures you from the moment you step onto its streets. Our water taxi pulled right in front of our hotel, the Locanda Vivaldi. 

http://locandavivaldi.it/ 

We checked in and were delighted to discover that our room had a terrace overlooking the side canal.

Arriving at our Hotel Locanda Vivaldi off of the Grand Canal
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Venice is a city of small islands interconnected by waterways. The islands were originally marshes that were built upon. Thousands of tree trunks were used as pilings to build the base of Venice. Then the stone and brick was placed on top of the wood pilings. Over the years the wood under the water has petrified (become like stone). However, it is believed that Venice is slowly sinking at a rate of 2 inches per century.

We soon left our rooms and started meandering through the streets of Venice, crossing bridges and canals, in search of a late lunch. With 409 bridges connecting the small islands, it reinforced why we had not visited this city when our children were in strollers. We were warmly welcomed in Trattoria alla Rivetta by the friendliest waiter in the world.

Trattoria Alla Rivetta

Venice is known for a lot of seafood so this was a great opportunity for our children to sample some very different dishes like squid ink pasta, calamari, sardine dishes, different local fishes, and a variety of lobster and other seafood pastas. I have to admit that this foodie does not eat seafood but the dishes were tempting enough to allow me to try them and to enjoy them.

The Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge in the Back
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After considerable research and discovering that some of our initial choices for dinner were fully booked, we got a table at Hostaria Da Franz. This turned out to be one of those magical Venetian moments. It was fate that brought us to Da Franz.  When we first sat down, we wondered why the waiters were not giving us our menus. They started us with a complementary Prosecco. Then Maurizio, the third generation owner, came over and made us feel like we were his only and most special customers of the night. He described all of the special dishes for that evening and offered brilliant suggestions. I was a bit worried because it was all seafood. I shared with Maurizio my limitations and he said, “Don’t worry signora, our chef can make you anything.” He proceeded to give me delicious suggestions. It turned out to be one or our family’s most memorable dinners of all time, between the food, the service, and Maurizio.

A Quiet Canal in Venice

Mouth Watering Treats in a Pasticceria

We had arranged for a private tour guide ahead of time with Federica Fresch from Walking Tours in Venice http://www.discoveringvenice.com/.  With Federica we did “skip the line” into St. Mark’s Church and into the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale).

Federica Brings History to Life
St. Mark’s Square in the Background

She gave us such amazing detailed historical information that even our teenage children enjoyed the learning experience. Federica’s tour also included an hour boat ride through the canals.  After our morning tour we were ready for lunch. We took Federica’s advice and had a very nice lunch at Aciugheta.

View From the Grand Canal of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and St. Mark’s Square
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Venice holds an annual Carnival celebration. One of the main characteristics of the Carnival is for its participants to wear costumes and masks. Masks have become an iconic symbol of Venice. The masks can be made of leather, porcelain, glass, gesso, and gold leaf. Gesso is a combination of animal glue binder with chalk and white pigment.

The Many Faces of Venice

There are dozens of stores selling beautiful hand-made masks through out the city. The masks add a level of mystery to the city.  

Our second dinner expedition took us to Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana where we dined al fresco. A trip to Venice would not be complete without a visit to the island of Murano famous for its glass blowing. We really enjoyed seeing the glass master turn a ball of molten glass into beautiful pieces of art.

The Glass Master Molds a Horse out of the Molten Glass

After Murano we took a ferry to the island of Burano. This was an amazingly beautiful village with houses painted of gorgeous bright colors. Owners of houses in Burano must apply to the local government to get approval of the paint colors they select. A delightful lunch was enjoyed at Campiello del Principe.

The Bright Colors of Burano
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After Burano we returned to Venice. At the end of the day we took advantage of our day ferry ticket to explore the island of San Giorgio Maggiore directly across from our hotel and the Grand Canal. There we climbed the highest point of Venice, the tower of the church of San Giorgio to enjoy spectacular sunset views of Venice. Our last dinner was the most casual of all but also a great family dining experience at Trattoria da Jonny.

Meandering Through the Streets of Venice
Keeping Up with the Boys

The next and final day we spent visiting the food market and looking to stock up on our supply of truffle products. We culminated our visit with an awesome lunch at Vini Da Pinto.

Checking Out the Menu at Vini Da Pinto.
It’s still morning but we are doing our research for lunch.
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

I was not expecting to see so many tourists in the month of October. The side walks were filled with visitors and the canals buzzed with boats and gondolas. Sometimes there was so much water traffic that big jams formed in the canals with seemingly no worries by anyone. I cannot imagine the crowds in the middle of the summer.

Gondoliers Prepare for their Customers

The Bow Iron has a shape that resembles the Doge’s hat (head gear used by the Doge instead of a crown) on top, and the six teeth representing the six districts of Venice.
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

We saw beautiful buildings that have been restored to their original splendor contrasted against dilapidated and crooked structures. If you look very closely and deconstruct Venice, you will notice in many places messy clothes lines, cracked and moldy stucco, peeling paint, cracked shutters, and rusty wrought iron. But when you step back and take it all in, the Venetian spirits work their magic on you to alter your perception and suddenly all you see is a charming, romantic, quaint, and beautiful Venezia.

Tramonto Veneziano sul Canal Grande
Venetian Sunset over the Grand Canal

PGR: Petrucelli Gelato Report

A visit to Italy would not be complete without gelato. In order of preference the following were the gelaterias we went to in Venice: Gelateria Stefano, Rosa Salva, Il Doge, and Alaska.

Caffè e Ciocolato e Straciatella e Cioccolato Gelato Combos

Eating Around the World in London

With both children away on week-long school trips, I decided to take a break from the kitchen, and set forth with my husband on an international cuisine adventure through the neighborhoods of London.

Day #1

  • Type of Cuisine: Lebanese
  • Restaurant: Maroush I
  • Neighborhood: W2 2JE (Paddington)

Since arriving in London nine months ago, my husband had been wanting to try one of the many Lebanese restaurants along Edgware Road. And since I have a claim to Lebanese descendants, (a great great grandfather who made his way to Colombia), it was befitting to make our trek to Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant recommended by friends. After researching on-line and discovering that Maroush is a 30-year-old, very successful, family owned business with 14 different restaurants and eateries to pick from, we chose Maroush I, located at 21 Edgware Road. We shared two delicious appetizers, one was a warm chick pea dish with yogurt, lemon, garlic, and pieces of bread mixed in; the other was a baked pastry filled with spinach, pine nuts and flavored with sumac (a middle eastern seasoning). Then for the main course we had the Mixed Grill consisting of charcoal-grilled skewers of seasoned minced lamb and cubes of marinated lamb and chicken served with garlic sauce, cooked so beautifully they melted in our mouths. After our wonderful and filling meal we were just expecting to get our bill when the waitress surprised us with a complimentary plate of Lebanese Baklawa, a mouth-watering selection of miniature traditional phyllo dough pastries filled with honey, nuts, and butter. We plan to return to bring our children and have them experience Lebanese cuisine. We also plan to go later in the evening since Maroush has live music and belly dancing every night beginning at 9:30. For more information go to:

http://www.maroush.com/

Day #2

  • Type of Cuisine: Latin American
  • Restaurant: Las Iguanas
  • Neighborhood:  SE1 8XX (Southbank, London Borough of Lambeth)

For our second day we decided to honor the Latin American heritage in the family by going to a Latin American restaurant, Las Iguanas. Las Iguanas is a chain of restaurants with locations throughout all of England and four in London. We visited the restaurant located in South Bank across from the Southbank Centre near the London Eye.

Las Iguanas Across from Southbank Centre and near the London Eye

Las Iguanas with its lively atmosphere was hopping with young people enjoying after work drinks and dinners. It offered a blend of Mexican, Caribbean, and South American food. We started out with refreshing Caipirinhas; the Brazilian drink made with cachaca (sugarcane rum), sugar, and muddled lime. We accompanied our drinks with tasty Mexican poppadoms, a cross between Indian poppadoms and Mexican tostadas seasoned with chili powder and paprika. For the main course we shared a Cuban sandwich and a chorizo salad. Their version of a Cuban sandwich resembled more of a pulled pork sandwich and was bland and boring. The chorizo salad with spinach and sweet potatoes was more interesting and tasty. We concluded we did not have to return to Las Iguanas for the food. We were also surprised by the lack of Spanish-speaking waiters/waitresses. Although they do have a children’s menu, we felt the atmosphere was more for adults than for families. It is definitely a fun place for drinks. For more information visit:

http://www.iguanas.co.uk/

Day #3

  • Type of Cuisine: Korean
  • Restaurant: Koba
  • Neighborhood: W1T 1NA (Fitzrovia)

It was time to try something Asian, so we decided to go to a Korean BBQ restaurant. Korean barbeque consists of grilling your food at your table. Koba is a small and cozy restaurant in the Fitzrovia part of London not far from Oxford Circus and Soho Square.

Koba Restaurant

This restaurant gets very good reviews and our experience there certainly matched the reviews. It is wise to make a reservation ahead of time either directly through them or through Top Table, http://www.toptable.co.uk/london-restaurants?m=72. The tables in the restaurant all have built-in gas grills. First we enjoyed appetizers that came fully cooked from the kitchen. We had pajeon, a Korean pancake that looks more like Spanish Tortilla. We also tried a very tasty fried chicken appetizer. For the main course we ordered a mix of marinated beef and chicken that was brought raw to the table, which we then grilled on our grill station. Alternatively, you can have the chef cook the food in the kitchen but half the fun is cooking it yourself. We ordered lettuce leaves and other vegetables to assemble lettuce wraps with the cooked meat. We really enjoyed the youthful and casual atmosphere, and hope to return with our children to Koba and have them experience Korean barbeque first hand. For more information look up:

http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/venue/2%3A27138/koba

Finding the Best Hamburger in London

Although, I have not performed an exhaustive search for the Best Hamburger in London I would like to share with you what my research has yielded to date. I am excluding fast food restaurants in my project, something that I’m sure will disappoint my children. As some of you know, the hamburger did not originate in the states but rather in Hamburg, Germany, and then was brought to America. We Americans like to think of it as one of our culinary creations. As an American expat in a foreign land, it’s sometimes very comforting to find foods that remind you of home, like a good juicy hamburger.

Below are the places I have sampled in order of preference.

#1 Byron

http://www.byronhamburgers.com/

Byron is a fun restaurant chain that offers what they like to call “proper” hamburgers. The owner spent 4 years in the states and upon returning in 2007 realized that there were no true hamburger restaurants in London where you could get an authentic diner burger. With 22 locations, you are sure to find one near you. Their menu is not cluttered with a huge variety of food. They stick to a simple menu, a choice of four hamburgers, a grilled chicken breast and a vegetarian sandwich. They also offer standard side dishes like fries (which they actually call them fries and not chips) and onion rings. What made this an outstanding burger for me was the quality of the beef and the fact that the chef cooked it exactly to my liking, medium rare. I recommend this restaurant for families with children of all ages. Byron offers a children’s menu as well.

#2 Sticky Fingers

http://www.stickyfingers.co.uk/

Sticky Fingers is the BBQ restaurant that former Rolling Stones bass player, Bill Wyman, opened in 1989 in Kensington. The restaurant boasts original Rolling Stones memorabilia, a lively environment and delicious BBQ food. I have been here with friends as well as with family. My children have enjoyed their ribs and burgers. Again, they do a great job with their burgers. The quality of the meat is very good and the chef also cooks it to your liking. I recommend this restaurant for families of children of all ages and Sticky Fingers also offer a children’s menu.

#3 The Waterway

http://www.thewaterway.co.uk/

The Waterway is a restaurant in Maida Vale by the canals. Aside from its indoor dining it offers great terrace eating with beautiful canal views. The menu has an interesting selection of foods like traditional coq au vin, risotto, lamb, fish, and The Waterway Burger. The first time I ate at the Waterway I went with a friend who was visiting from the states. She ordered the coq au vin and I ordered the hamburger. My husband who had already eaten at The Waterway had recommended the burger. I was not disappointed that first time. It was an exquisite burger. However, I recently went back and I was not as impressed with my burger this second time.  I found the meat a bit chewy and the taste not as impressive as the first time. Although, the Waterway offers a children’s menu, I felt the environment during the evening is mostly for adults or older children.

#4 The Clifton

http://cliftonstjohnswood.com/

I would like to include one of our St. John’s Wood neighborhood pubs in this review. First of all, we marvel at the fact that we have a neighborhood pub that we can walk to for lunch or dinner. The Clifton’s food has been consistently good. They offer traditional pub fare like fish and chips and sausages all of which get high ratings from our family, as well as steaks, and vegetarian options. They offer a yummy 8 oz. burger with chutney and chips. For families with young children they also offer a children’s menu.  And the piece de resistance is that dogs are welcomed there. The Clifton prefers smaller dogs or very well behaved large dogs.

#5 The Prince Edward Pub

http://www.princeedwardpub.co.uk/

The reason my husband and I went on a specific quest for a good burger to The Price Edward is because the book London’s Best Pubs by Haydon and Hampson, boasted that The Prince Edward was the only pub in London to offer a Kobe burger. The write up mentioned that the beef came from the UK’s only herd of traditional Japanese Wagyu cattle. We certainly found the pub to have a delightful atmosphere and enjoyed our beer, however we were highly disappointed with the quality of their burgers. They were no different than most of the average burgers you get in most pubs. Furthermore, the meat was not fresh, the burger felt like it had been a frozen patty, which had been defrosted in the microwave and then cooked unevenly. I recently looked up their menu online and discovered that they no longer offer a Kobe meat burger, just a regular burger.

If you have enjoyed a good burger in London I would love to hear from you.